Why C.C. should win the Cy Young Award

You could be forgiven for not realizing it, given the overwhelming media hype that’s surrounded the Tigers ace over the past few weeks, but Sabathia and Verlander are having virtually identical seasons. Don’t believe me? The numbers don’t lie:

Most of those numbers favor Verlander but not by a lot when you break them down. The innings pitched advantage largely disappears when you consider that the Yankees have been using a 6 man rotation for much of the second half because they just can’t kick their A.J. Burnett habit. The ERA difference is probably explained by the large gap in the BABIP against (.235 for Verlander and .320 for C.C.) which is probably pretty anomalous. Sabathia has given up a pretty large number of line drives, but not so many more than Verlander, though Verlander does seem to be pretty good at inducing pop ups.

The number that really intrigues me is the home run rate, if only because there’s really no reason Verlander’s should be that much higher than Sabathia’s Verlander does give up a lot more flyballs than Sabathia, (42.1% to 29.9%), but as I just mentioned, Verlander gets a good rate of infield flyballs (11%). Additionally, he plays his home games in Comerica Park, which you would assume would help him limit the long balls. And indeed, Comerica favors pitchers when it comes to home runs, according to ESPN, if only a little bit. But by contrast, Yankee Stadium is the 3rd most hitter friendly park in the majors when it comes to the deep fly. Considering the park factors and the infield fly balls, it’s hard to really square the fact that Verlander has given up more home runs than Sabathia and has a higher HR/FB rate by putting context with the numbers. It seems we have to conclude that Verlander is just more prone to giving up home runs than Sabathia is.

But the biggest factor working in Sabathia’s favor, in my opinion, is a familiar one; the division. Now I’m generally not someone to engage in a lot of A.L. East triumphalism, because I think people have a tendency to really overstate the effects of the division, but in this case I don’t think you can ignore the impact it had on the two pitchers. The A.L. Central is, well it’s not good, to be polite. The Twins and White Sox, in particular, have absolutely atrocious offenses, ranking in the bottom three of the American League with a wRC+ of 82 and 90, respectively. Only Seattle is worse. By contrast, in the East, only the Orioles have a wRC+ below 100, and their mark (96) is better than the Indians, as well as the aforementioned Twinkies and White Sox. Verlander has made 12 starts against those three teams.

For a fuller picture, here’s a comparison of how Sabathia and Verlander fare against their respective divisions.

And remember, the Tigers have the best offense in the Central, and Verlander doesn’t have to face them. On the other hand, the Red Sox have the best offense in the American League, and Sabathia’s 31 innings pitched against them are pulling up those averages.

This isn’t really to say the decision is clear cut, indeed the point is basically to say it isn’t clear cut. The notion that Verlander is running away with the award is just dead wrong, a symptom of writers who have been seduced by Verlander’s gaudy win total. But at the end of the day those 5 extra wins are really the only thing that drastically set Verlander apart from Sabathia, and since pitcher wins are meaningless, we can rightly say that the two are basically neck and neck.

I won’t fault anyone for voting for Verlander, but if the season ended today and I had a vote, I’d be casting it for C.C.

51 thoughts on “Why C.C. should win the Cy Young Award

  1. Eric

    So basically your argument is that Verlander pitched a little better but since he is in a worst division he should be punished? You fail to point out that CC does not have to play against the best team in his division (his Yankees) and he has not pitched well against the second best offense (Boston) in his divison.

    • Michael

      He doesn't fail to address this. He states further down in the article that CC faces the Red Sox who boast the best offense in the AL. Not the Yankees. Although I still would vote for Verlander over CC the point he is trying to make is that its not out of the question to say that CC has been as good, you would just have to dig deep which the main stream media doesn't seem to do.

      • Eric

        You are correct and I understand his argument somewhat. Here's where I disagree though. Forgot about what division each team plays for for a second. Arguably the two best offenses in baseball are the Yankees and the Red Sox. CC Sabathia has faced the Red Sox 5 times this season. Just Verlander has faced the Red Sox and the Yankees a combined 4 times. To me, this means that although Verlander plays in an easier division he has had to face the best offenses in baseball roughly the same amount of times (albeit 1 start less). Thus mostly nullifying the difference in competition that CC faced by playing in the AL East.

        • BrienJackson

          Well that sounds good, but it ignores the compounding effect of facing the same lineup multiple times. Verlander faced the Yankees twice and the Red Sox twice. Sabathia faced the same Red Sox team 5 times, on top of the number of times he's faced those same hitters since 2009. You would at least think that facing the same pitcher 5 times in a season would give you a somewhat better feel for their stuff, timing, etc., and make it more difficult on the pitcher to get the batters out.

        • BrienJackson

          Also there's a bit of a split factor. The Red Sox don't have much of one, but the Yankees have a wRC+ 12 points lower against RHP than against lefties. That's not *huge,* but Verlander's numbers against the Yankees aren't really stellar, either, and IIRC the Yankees helped him out tremendously in the game against Detroit by giving him a free inning thanks to an evil bunt.

          • BrienJackson

            Should read "the game in Detroit."

    • BrienJackson

      The Yankees don't have the division's best offense, the Red Sox do. And I actually did specifically point out that C.C. hasn't pitched well against Boston, but that's kind of the point. Boston is pulling C.C.'s numbers up, and he's still neck and neck with Verlander, who doesn't have anyone comparable to the Red Sox to pitch against in his division.

      • Eric

        CC has faced Boston 5 times. Verlander has faced the Red Sox/Yankees 4 times. How is that pulling up CC's numbers but not Verlander's numbers?

        • mikeNicoletti

          Are you forgetting that CC also faces the Rays and the Jays?! i don't have the numbers in front of me, but you would have to think the difference in the middle of the 2 divisions leaves a wide disparity in the average talent of the lineups faced.

          • BrienJackson

            The Rays have hit 6 home runs off of C.C. Conversely, the White Sox have hit 7 off of Verlander.

      • BrienJackson

        To be clear, the Red Sox have a wRC+ a point higher than the Yankees, but their slashline stats are all better, and they don't have the platoon split the Yankees show. I think it's fair to say they have the better offense, but the Yankees (and Rangers) aren't that far behind.

  2. Dave

    I understand the point you are trying to make which is that Verlander should not be running away with the Cy but c'mon. He's clearly been the best pitcher in the AL this year and I don't think that his big win total has people thinking that way (although it doesn't hurt). CC only edges him in HR/FB and FiP which is partially dependent on the previous statistic. Verlander beats him everywhere else and he has been pretty damn good against the AL Beast when given a chance.
    He also leads in wins, ERA, ERA+, WHIP, K's, innings pitched, and he has easily been the most dominant looking pitcher. C'mon, there is no way he can't win the Cy.

    • Gotta say, even I agree with the above.

      Love me some CC and he’s been a horse (again) this year and may very well end up with 20-21 wins, but Verlander’s been better.

    • BrienJackson

      I'm not sure why we should say Verlander is "clearly" better based on numbers like IP and K/9 where he holds a very slight lead over C.C., and that C.C. "only" leads him in HR/9 and HR/FB, given that Verlander has given up a lot more flyballs (and gotten a lot more infield flys) AND pitches in a much more friendly home field when it comes to allowing homers. It seems to me that the fact that Sabathia has genuinely been better than Verlander at not allowing home runs should work against the "clearly been better" meme.

      • Pat

        You are right CC has JV beat in giving up home runs this year, but JV has given up fewer hits, runs, and walks, while pitching more innings

        • michael

          Everything in hits and runs are encompassed in ERA. Most advanced thinkers would look at single-season ERA as a representation of outcomes, not strictly influenced by pitcher performance.

          The innings difference is trivial, is addressed and is beyond Sabathia's control. The walk rate or even better, BB% isn't very dissimilar (6.0 vs. 6.2). I'd wager many a lucky charms that if you measured the average walk rate, or OBP of the cumulative batters each pitcher faced, the quality of competition would be stark and more than supersede the perceived advantage Verlander has in traditional statsl

  3. Boni

    The No-No might help Verlander's case. Just sayin'…

  4. Bill

    Verlander will win hands down since he will get the votes from the more sabermetrically inclined AND the traditionalists due to his win, SO, ERA, WHIP, etc etc.

    Yes, the CYA may be a closer "race" than the media makes it out to be, but CC is an "honorable mention" at this point.

  5. zipzip

    CC might not even get enough votes for 2nd place in the Cy Young voting. Jared Weaver has been just as good if not better than CC. And James Shields and his 11 complete games aren't going unnoticed by the baseball writers when casting their votes.

    Verlander's numbers are almost identical to Roger Clemens in 1986. That was the last season a that saw a starting pitcher win both the Cy Young and MVP awards.

    Clemens 1986: 24-4, 2.48 era, 238 k, 0.969 whip, 169 era+, 10 cg, 1 sho
    Verlander 2011: 24-5, 2.29 era, 244 k, 0.910 whip, 176 era+, 4 cg, 2 sho, 1 no-hitter

    That's stacking up against vintage, pre-steroid (we presume), AL pennant winning, Roger Clemens.

    Two other seasons worth stacking Verlander up against. Pedro in 1999 (Cy Young, 2nd in MVP voting), and Randy Johnson in 2001 (Cy Young, 6th in MVP voting).

    Martinez 1999: 23-4, 2.07 era, 313 k, 0.923 whip, 243 era+, 5 cg, 1 sho
    Johnson 2001: 21-6, 2.49 era, 372 k, 1.009 whip, 188 era+, 3 cg, 2 sho
    Verlander 2011: 24-5, 2.29 era, 244 k, 0.910 whip, 176 era+, 4 cg, 2 sho, 1 no-hitter

    So not only does Verlander have the inside track to win the Cy (and potentially the MVP), but he's having arguably one of top 5 seasons by a starting pitcher not named Greg Maddux in the last 25 years.

    • mikeNicoletti

      Dude, relax… Verlander's season isn't close to those. He's got over 100 less strikeouts less than johnson and his ERA is a quarter run worse than pedro's when the offensive numbers in the league were way WAY up.

      Even as a yankee fan, comparing Verlander's season to Vintage Pedro is blasphemy. He made the league his daddy in 1999.

      If CC doesn't get 2nd place I'm giving up paying attention to these awards in general.

      • Vic

        I do believe HE was the League's Daddy, but i got what you meant. Also i'm more impressed by his 2000 season, in which he set the all-time single season WHIP record, an incomprehensible .737. Along with league leading 1.74 ERA, 284 K, 4 SHO, but "only" 18 wins.

  6. Chris U.

    I understand that pitcher wins are meaningless, but what about losses? CC has lost 8 games while Verlander has only lost 4. Some of this can be attributed to the Tigers' relatively weaker schedule, but CC has gotten bombed in four losses (5 ER or more) while Verlander's worst losing performance had him giving up 4 ER.

    I'll also point out that Verlander has been lights out down the stretch. He hasn't lost since July 15th while CC has lost 4 starts over the same time period (albeit fewer starts due to the six-man rotation).

    • Damian

      I don't intend to be rude, but how can you combine the following two clauses in the same sentence:

      "I understand that pitcher wins are meaningless"
      "what about losses?"

      If your point is that CC hasn't dominated every game he has pitched this year, then you're right. But neither has Verlander, and their overall numbers look similar because they've pitched very similarly. Also, "down the stretch" games count no more than April games.

      You're right that Verlander's worst losing performance had him giving up 4 ER, but that just means he was lucky not to lose the time he gave up 6 runs, and that he's spread out runs a little better than CC has this year, and his offense has more than kept up. Unless you're prepared to say that spreading out runs is a talent, then I'm not sure how it's relevant.

      Verlander's having a fantastic season, and his losses have as little to do with it as his wins.

  7. 27up-27down

    I would vote for Verlander, but i agree that the Verlander narrative has been a little over the top. CC is a very close second, maybe even a dead heat. As usual there is a lot of lazy baseabll writers that haven't looked at the stats in while and probably won't revisit them before voting. Why would they want to be proven wrong?

  8. nasafemme

    Ask yourself how you feel about going up against the Tigers in a best of 5 series with the daunting prospect of seeing Verlander twice? I love C.C. and bleed pinstripes, but just sayin'…

    • BrienJackson

      I'd probably rather see them face the Rangers, just because Texas is going to throw at least 2 or 3 lefties at them in the ALDS, but Detroit doesn't intimidate me at all, Verlander or no Verlander.

  9. Anthony

    I agree with you that the seasons are closer than one would think given the media hype, but Verlander still deserves to win. You can make arguments on BABIP, flyball rate, and FIP, but the truth is, the results are more important when you look at the entire season versus how stats that attempt to measure how those results were accomplished. I do believe the new stats provide incredible ways to dissect the game, but sabermetrics has not yet explained someone like Ricky Nolasco, who always pitches worse than the sabermetric stats would indicate. After a large sample size over the course of a full season, I think there is a danger in discounting the results because the flyball rate suggests CC might or should have pitched better. I'm not convinced that Verlander would not have handled the Rays, Jays, and Orioles as well as or better than CC, but there is no way to know that for certain. I also don't know that CC should get the benefit of Yankee Stadium, which favors lefty pitchers.

    Verlander leads in Ks, ERA, WHIP, Wins, and IP. Yes, you are also right that wins are not that important, but I disagree that they are meaningless. They do mean something. We do know that, generally, a better pitcher accumulates more of them than a worse pitcher, just look at the guys who number among the 300-game winners. It doesn't always work that way, but a season with 24 wins in this day and age of expanded bullpens and rotations does mean something. And, while only one game, he had a no-hitter (and nearly had two of them). To me, that's the icing on the cake.

    • BrienJackson

      "We do know that, generally, a better pitcher accumulates more of them than a worse pitcher"

      How exactly do we know that? Of all the pitchers who won more games than Felix Hernandez in 2010 or Zack Greinke in 2009, exactly how many of them would you say were better pitchers that year?

  10. Yankee Shadow

    Come on, dude. You've GOT to be kidding. "CC has been a better pitcher this year"??? Seriously? What's the point of trying to make a case that CC is having "a better year" than Verlander, when its obvious to any idiot that Verlander is having a historic career year? I'm Yankees all the way, and love CC, but the truth is he's kinda tanked since August, while Verlander has rocketed into another stratosphere. Trying to make accomodations for who has a "tougher" division, etc. is really splitting hairs that turns sabermetric-type discussions into a joke. Look, CC's ERA and WHIP are SIGNIFICANTLY higher than Verlander. Sorry, a 1.23 WHIP and 3.00 ERA are not Cy Young numbers. Lots of stats are illusionary, but to say CC's WHIP & ERA are higher because he faces tougher hitters is just…ridiculous. I mean, really now.

    • BrienJackson

      Verlander's season is "historic?" By what standard?

      • Yankee Shadow

        um, how about the fact that he's being considered as a front runner for Cy Young AND MVP in the same season? You can count the number of times a pitcher has been in that category on your hands. For Verlander to put a season in where he's being compared to the best seasons ever thrown by Clemons, Martinez, Johnson, etc. puts him in rare territory. As far as the TIges go, his season will go down as one of the all time best seasons any pitcher has pitched. Not THE best, but close. QUestion for you, Brian: why are you so reluctant to give this guy his due?

        • rick

          HIs statistics are hadly "historic", a 177+ era is definitely no easy feat, but to be compared to Martinez's best season(s)? You got to be kidding me.

          Pedro was dominant in an era where hitters were dominant, but he made them look like little leaguers. Verlander can not even smoke the dominance that Pedro showed in 1999.

        • BrienJackson

          The MVP nonsense is even more grating than the "running away with the Cy Young" meme, if only because it's so transparently based on the false narrative that the Tigers are otherwise not a very good team and Verlander is single-handedly carrying them. I'm not sure why I should put any stock in that for anything at all.

          • XXX

            The media does tend to forget Miguel Cabrera and Victor Martinez, orJose Valverde, or the emergence of Alex Avila and Jhonny Peralta, at times it feels like they think the Tigers are Verlander and a bunch of Brandon Inges.

          • BrienJackson

            I think my favorite argument to this effect was Pete Abe the other night, who said "the Tigers have a .533 winning percentage when someone else starts and [whatever their winning percentage is when Verlander starts]." A couple of (I thought) obvious observations.

            1. Wouldn't we expect this to be roughly true of EVERY team and their best starter?

            2. A .533 winning percentage would still be the best in the A.L. Central.

  11. Bryan

    Listen, To say C.C., who pitches in the toughest division, has been amazing this season woud be incorrect. But to say he is the better pitcher than Justin Verlander? No Way. The A.L East has some of the best pitchers in Baseball. James Shields, David Price, Josh Beckett, C.C. Sabathia. All of those pithers face the Best offenses in the league 6 times a year. Yet only C.C. is in the Cy Young talk? C.C. has the luxury of NOT facing the Yakees AT that homerun factory called a stadium. How many No hitters did C.C. pitch this year? What is C.C.'s record following a Yankee's loss? What does C.C.'s win streak look like? C.C is only the better pitcher if you ignore all of the numbers and simply say he is better because he is a Yankee. AND if you don't factor in C.C.'s AMAZING July his ERA is an un-Cy Young like 3.32. His August was terrible with an ERA of 4.68! Verlander's August was much better combined with the fact that his ERA has been a shade over 2.00 flat since MAY. Verlander has been the better Pitcher Simply because he ISN"T a Yankee

  12. Pat

    this was part of an ESPN article posted a little over a week a go that was in response to a similar piece that was saying CC should win.

    "First off, the tougher competition argument makes some sense. Sabathia pitches in the AL East, he's faced the Red Sox five times; Verlander pitches in the AL Central and gets to beat up on the Twins and Royals and Adam Dunn. As Matt points out, Sabathia has made 13 starts against the top five offenses in the American League compared to Verlander's six. That may seem like a big difference, but there's another way to check this. Baseball Prospectus keeps tracks of the quality of opposition batters each pitcher has faced. Here's the aggregate batting line for each pitcher:

    Sabathia: .265/.330/.424
    Verlander: .263/.327/.412 "

    Here is a link to that article http://espn.go.com/blog/sweetspot/post/_/id/15894

  13. Dave

    In my opinion, CC's numbers against the best offensive team is a detriment towards his Cy nod.

    CC's ERA / ERA vs non Sox / ERA vs Sox is 3.01 / 2.49 / 6.39.
    Verlander's ERA / ERA vs non Sox-Yanks / ERA vs Sox-Yanks is 2.29 / 2.20 / 2.92.

    Let's just call the Yanks-Sox a wash in offensive production on any given day and ignore the fact that CC pitched one extra game pitched. I want my Cy Young pitcher to be someone who can go toe to toe with the best and dominate. A 2.92 ERA against the best hitters in the game is pretty impressive, 6.39 ERA is lack luster to say the least. When the rest of the league has a lower ERA (5.39) than your ace (again at 6.39) against the Red Sox, that's not a good thing and hardly Cy Young worthy.

  14. ATE

    Not buying it.. Verlander has been an ace.. CC has fallen short of ACE status for NYY.. No NYY Ace loses everytime they face their biggest rival.. Put any amt of pressure on CC and he faulters… in addition, how many times did CC relinquish a 3 run lead the VERY NEXT inning? Opt out.. we don't need you anymore… Banuelos, Betances, Nova, Hughes, Brackman will fill in.. and COMBINED will make less money per season.

    • Dave

      Yeah! Three years in a row of 20 wins, who needs that! I am sure the Brewers were happy to get rid of him when he did so terrible down the stretch for them, getting in the playoffs despite him….

    • michael

      Were you alive this year? Brackman couldn't have performed worse. His projection as a big-leaguer is extremely low.

  15. Sam

    Would be surprised if CC got any first place votes.

  16. Matt

    Interesting argument. Playing in the AL East, you're held to a higher standard. If you're numbers aren't there, you won't win the award. If Felix would have had the season he had last year as a pinstriper, he wouldn't have won the Cy Young Award…

    • dmz

      If Felix was a Yankee last year, he would probably have won 22 or more games… how easily people forget that Seattle had a not merely bad, but _historically_ bad, offense last year.

  17. DGroth

    CC should get some love, Verlander win the Cy, Cano should be MVP and Pedro was beyond a beast in his years in the steroid era: there should be no discussion about that.

  18. DGroth

    And Pedro needs to be a first ballot unanimous Hall of Famer…while I am on the subject. And Clemens, A-Rod, McGuire, etc., let'em in the Rose wing.

  19. DGroth

    As a matter of fact, let Rose in, and make it the Clemens/Bonds wing

  20. EatEmUpTigers

    Okay, so I will come out right away and say I am a Tigers fan. Upon first glance this article upset me, but after looking at it again, I can understand where the author is coming from. While I do not agree that CC has been better than Verlander this year, I do agree with what I believe to be the main point of the article. Sabathia has had a very good, unappreciated year. Even a couple months back the media made the CY young race between Weaver and Verlander, with CC a distant third, it is almost as if CC was a non-factor this year, when that has not been the case. CC has had an excellent season and in my opinion should finish 2nd behind JV and than maybe Shields a distant third.

  21. Lily

    CC's WHIP is grotesque. CC's H/9 is grotesque. CC's performance against his own division is grotesque. CC's meltdowns are grotesque. He's given up 6 or more earned runs on three occasions this year. That is not Cy worthy. He has given up 10 hits on six occasions. That is not Cy worthy. His ERA+ is 146. That is not Cy worthy. He trails Verlander in SIERA (which, BTW, is a much more refined and useful gauge of a pitcher than FIP or xFIP). That is not Cy worthy. His ERA is only 8th best in the AL. That is not Cy worthy. His BAA is 65 points higher than that of Verlander. That is not Cy worthy. Shall I go on?

    • rick

      Can you read worth a damn? Or actually comprehend, and take in what the writing was actually trying to say, before you just spew out whatever you want?

      We didn't need you to repeat the stats that we already know, and it's obvious the traditional statistics don't favour Sabathia. The whole point of this article is that Sabathia has posted similar stats as Verlander while facing much tougher teams and also playing in a hitter-friendly park. This does not mean Sabathia should win the Cy Young but rather trying to make the point that if you take into account all those factors, Sabathia has not done as poorly as the media has purported when compared to Verlander.

      We won't know if Sabathia will do just as well, better, or worse if he switched places with Verlander, and vice versa.

      Next time comment in a way that isn't so grotesque.

      • Lily

        "This does not mean Sabathia should win the Cy Young but rather trying to make the point that if you take into account all those factors, Sabathia has not done as poorly as the media has purported when compared to Verlander."

        Hey, Rick, what's the title of the article?

        Hey, Rick, show me three instances of highly unfavorable comparison in the mainstream media?

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